Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Moveable Feast

One of the many examples of street art in Oaxaca

"The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity."   
          ~Attributed to George Carlin

Left to my own devices, I sometimes pretend that I am a restaurant critic. Especially when I eat at a restaurant I really like in Oaxaca, such as La Olla or La Biznaga. Today I took notes  as I ate a very good spinach salad at La Biznaga, along with the delicious bread they serve there, and a cerveza. To tell the truth, my notes had nothing to do with the food, but were more stream of consciousness ramblings.

I was the only person eating alone. There were two young American couples, a middle-aged Mexican man with his mother, a couple with a new baby and both admiring grandmothers, a table of US hipsters, and several tables with women around my age.  I enjoy the pleasures of the table, whether eating alone or with others. A bit of pleasure, or a good dollop of it, does the heart and soul good.
I just moved to a new neighborhood in the northern part of El Centro in Oaxaca. I am  one of several travelers living at Conchita's casa. Conchita grew up in this house, and she has seen a lot of change in Oaxaca since she was a child. Once there were burros and fields all around. But now, there are many buildings and a lot of traffic. Conchita is very warm and friendly. There are always three to six Mexican people of all ages visiting or working here, it seems. Of course, I do not know what I will learn about the life of Oaxaquenas by living here, but I am certain I will learn something. The everyday life of this house definitely involves a community. When I first arrived I felt a bit timid, but that soon evaporated in the friendly welcome I received.

The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity

This butterfly painting is on a wall about a block away. There are frescoes or graffiti or street art--call it what you will-- all over Oaxaca. Some of it is focused on political protest and some is simply exuberant creative expression. You never know when you will will discover another beautiful painting on some previously unadorned wall. I really enjoy what this kind of art adds to the cityscape.

No Home to Go Home to
Micky Gardener at Al Sol

My next door neighbor at Al Sol Apartments, where I lived when I first arrived in Oaxaca, was Micky Gardner. I interviewed her recently because I found her lifestyle as an elder nomad interesting.

In 2000, when her 27-year marriage ended, Micky sold her house and possessions.  First she traveled in the US, then after 9/11 she moved to New Zealand to live.  In 2003, she moved to a surfing village in Costa Rica. She stayed there for 6 years, teaching English to students there. In the process, she learned Spanish.

"I love Spanish-speakers--their joie de vivre. And I love the Spanish language, its rhythm, beat and texture. It's such a romantic language-- it's fun," she told me with a grin.

These days Micky spends most of the year traveling in Mexico and South America. Last year she stayed in Equador for months. This year she will be on Oaxaca for 3 1/2 months and then will travel to Peru for 2 months.

Micky was a textile science major in college and she still loves weaving and textiles. Recently she took a course in natural dying and weaving in Teotitlan, something she had wanted to do for many years.

"I have to have a project when I am traveling," she confides. In Oaxaca this visit, she volunteers for the nonprofit microfinance project En Via, which I wrote about in my last blog post. Micky likes traveling alone and does not miss having a home to come home to.  Instead she enjoys connecting with places and people as they appear in her life. There is a lot of freedom in traveling this way, according to Micky. "If it doesn't work, just leave," she advises.

Micky returns to Delaware for 4 months in the summer. There she teaches international students English at the university, replenishing her treasury for her next months of travel. While she is in Delaware, she housesits. She has 6 boxes of belongings in Delaware, mostly clothes she uses for her job there.

Most of the folks I meet here have a home to return to after they leave Oaxaca. But not Micky. She is a real elder nomad. Like Shari Sunshine and Julie Pierce, two other elders with a lot of nomad travel behind them. This life suits Micky. But she is not a proselytizer for the gray nomad lifestyle. "Every one should do what they love," she told me.

To change the subject every so slightly....okay....estoy cansado.....I am tired. My feet hurt from walking all over town again today. Now I am resting in my room, whose walls are peach-colored.

What is missing here---I really wish I could share with you some of the fabulous hair styles of the young guys here. I went on the Internet to try to find anything like them, but nada. Black shiny hair with lots of hair mousse on it, standing straight up! It's great. I will see whether I can take some photos soon.

Studio and shop in the village of Teotitlan
I wanted to go to the village of Teotitlan again today, but couldn't motivate myself enough, especially knowing that the place would be crowded because of a corn festival they were having.
Instead I went to the Ethnobotanical Garden, a wonderful place developed through the work of artist/activist Francisco Toledo. Francisco Toledo seems to be a person who has done and is doing many things to improve life in Oaxaca. I plan to learn more about him. The garden is just one of his beneficent projects. My camera batteries died and I couldn't take photos there. Such is life.

An exhibit on cacao at the San Pablo Cultural Center
“Blossoms are scattered by the wind and the wind cares nothing, but the blossoms of the heart no wind can touch."
           - Yoshida Kenko

Traveling gives one an opportunity to reflect on what is most deeply meaningful in life. At least, that is my own experience.

The blossoms of the heart that no wind can touch. For me these blossoms include spiritual life, the teachers and spiritual community, as well as art, imagination and the long-lasting love I feel for family and close friends. 

In Tibetan Buddhism, some teachings urge the practitioner to leave home, friends and family in order to focus more clearly on spiritual development.

I cannot pretend to have accomplished anything much in this regard, though I recognize that loosening the bonds of attachment is a wise practice especially in the later years, since we will have to leave everything familiar when we leave this body and life.

Far from what has been my home for many years, far from my friends and daughters, I take the time to reflect on attachment and love in its various forms.

Cacao and Corn: Two Ancient Holy Substances

In the state of Oaxaca 56% of the people are indigenous. (In the rest of Mexico, 15% of the population is indigenous.) The state of Oaxaca has 16 indigenous languages which contain many variants within them. The prevalence of indigenous peoples influences many things here, including old traditions regarding cacao and corn.

Oaxaca is considered the Mecca of chocolate culture. And that culture is very different from French truffles or Belgian bon bons. It involves raw cacao and its treatment and processing. Cacao was used as money long ago. It is still used as medicine. In Oaxaca, traditional healers called curanderos give chocolate drinks to cure bronchitis and plant cacao beans in the earth to pay off evil forces and heal those who have espanto, sickness from fright. Children drink chocolate for breakfast to ward off stings from scorpions or bees. Shops with small mills will grind cacao for you, adding sugar or whatever spices you prefer.

I went to an exhibit showing various ways that cacao beans are treated in order to be used in creating chocolate. Mole, a rich sauce of chocolate and spices, is the most famous way Oaxacans use chocolate, but there are many more, including beverages like tejate, a cold drink that originated in pre-Hispanic times and champurrado, a thick hot drink made with finely ground corn, chocolate and sometimes spices. 

Corn, like chocolate, has an ancient history here, and people feel passionate about safeguarding the authentic native corn from GMO contamination. That passion led Francisco Toledo to organize a wonderful exhibit at the museum in San Augustin, a small village near Oaxaca. These are two of the pieces from that show, which was a rich display ranging from protest art to paintings and textiles that focused on the holy quality of corn.

Dreams of Corn, one of the pieces at an exhibit at the museum in San Augustin Etla

Honoring corn

Life here is a continuous experience of exploration and discovery. This is the Juarez market, a cavernous, crowded place filled to overflowing with people and many things ranging from beautiful to absurd.

It's impossible not to think of the state of the planet while moving around here. It's not time travel, after all--it is travel right here in the modern world with all of its severe problems--garbage, pollution, chemicals, plastic, new illnesses, poverty. too many cars and trucks.
Nopales salad at La Olla

There are days when I wish it was time travel. I think that has been my habit for decades, wishing that I could escape from the exigencies of the modern industrial world.

It's no use. There is even less place to run to than there was 40 years ago when I first started to have the wish to find an escape. This is the particular crazy place we were born into, and this is the world we must navigate. So I tell myself. And it is true.

I am much more fortunate than the old women with pleading eyes who come with bunches of flowers or packets of gum or lovely woven shawls, hoping to get me to buy something from them. I seldom buy anything but I do give them a few pesos.

A few pesos. Which will never solve their problems. I do pray for them. I think of their situations and I pray for them as I contemplate my own existential dilemmas and eat nopales salad at a restaurant that I like. I am a fortunate woman living a fortunate life. Of course I have existential dilemmas. Don't you?
A beautiful shrine at La Olla Restaurant
I also have a lot of freedom. I am healthy. I am possessed of all my wits and wisdom, such as they are and may they increase and deepen.

One of my Dharma sisters wrote me an email in which she urged me to continue to "pump out the  bodhicitta in Oaxaca."  I was touched that she thinks of me as a venerable bodhicitta pumper outer.

I aspire to that. I wish I could end the suffering of beings. When I see Americans and Canadians, so edgy about personal space and so uncomfortable with intimacy, physical or otherwise and when I see Mexican people, so comfortable in groups and so interconnected and happy, I know I am just seeing a few things from my limited perspective. We all suffer difficulties. All of us want to be free.

And freedom is a big subject, big as the sky. It's an inside job. I may not be much of a philosopher, but I know that much for sure.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday Reflections on Being in Oaxaca

"Let me sit here, on the threshold of two worlds. Lost in the eloquence of silence."
          ~ Rumi

Does it seem an odd way to begin speaking, to allude to the eloquence of silence?  It feels right to me, because there is so much that cannot easily be said. Not only that, but the experience of travel, whether it is down the street or into another country, contains a great deal of what Rumi illuminates--sitting on the threshold of two worlds-- lost in the eloquence of silence. Beneath and within the outer movement, the poetry of the subconscious mind, the spiritual dimensions of being, the dancing world of the imagination are all at play.

The simple facts are: I arrived in Oaxaca on December 1st after spending five days in Cholula and Puebla, which are southwest of Mexico City. Here, I was happy to settle into a small, clean and pretty studio apartment in Al Sol, located in the southern part of town. There is a mercado a few blocks away for vegetables and fruits, empanadas and juice,  and it is an easy walk to the zocalo and the northern part of town.

Costumed women prepare to dance outside of Santo Domingo Church
In 5 days, I will be moving to the northern part of town, because I could not book an entire month here at Al Sol. I'll be staying with a family there. As it turns out, that is my favorite part of the city, so I am looking forward to living there for a couple of weeks.

Oaxaca is about the same size as Guanajuato, but it has quite a different feel to it. It is much more culturally active and politics here are far more radical.  As everyone will tell you, the zocalo, where many cultural events usually take place, has been occupied for months by a teachers' strike and by those protesting the murder of 43 students here. Many seem to mourn the loss of the public gathering space there and frown upon the increasing graffiti to be found on the walls of ancient churches and public buildings, all calling for justice and change.

In the plaza of a cultural center

In this part of Mexico indigenous peoples such as the Zapotec and Mixtec form an important part of the culture. I am still naive about Mexico, its history and its peoples, so I will make no attempt whatsoever to make any comments on indigenous culture here at this point. 

I loved being in Guanajuato, which is slower and more relaxed than Oaxaca and the most courteous city I have visited thus far. In Guanajuato, drivers seldom honk their horns. They give way in a relaxed fashion to other drivers. It's more like Hawaiian style driving.

Here in Oaxaca, drivers honk and drive in a rather haphazard and aggressive fashion, a bit like New York City drivers unleashed, if you can imagine that.

Tio  Guero, a colorful small restaturant

Oaxaca is still in the altiplano, or highlands, of Mexico, sitting at 5,000 feet elevation, with mountains surrounding.

In these photos, I'll share a little of what I have experienced here.

Ruins at Monte Alban

I was fortunate to visit the archeological site of Monte Alban with Joanne and Richard Moeschl, who lived in Ashland for many years and now dwell in a small village near Oaxaca. Richard is an intellectually curious and widely read person, and his comments and conjectures about the place added a lot to my appreciation of it.


According to UNESCO, "Monte Alban is the most important archaeological site of the Valley of Oaxaca.
Inhabited over a period of 1,500 years by a succession of peoples – Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs – the terraces, dams, canals, pyramids and artificial mounds of Monte Alb├ín were literally carved out of the mountain and are the symbols of a sacred topography.

The grand Zapotec capital flourished for thirteen centuries, from the year 500 B.C to 850 A.D. when, for reasons that have not been established, its eventual abandonment began."

Again from UNESCO: "Among some 200 pre-Hispanic archaeological sites inventoried in the valley of Oaxaca, the Monte Alban complex best represents the singular evolution of a region inhabited by a succession of peoples: the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs."

A place suffused with the resonance of the past, a place that leaves me at a loss for words "lost in the eloquence of silence" as Rumi says.

The Museum at Santo Domingo

The cathedral of Santo Domingo is a central place in the life of Oaxaca. In the spacious plaza in front of the church, many dances and other cultural events take place. Right next to the cathedral is a large edifice whose construction began in 1570. Once a monastery, it is now a museum. Just as Monte Alban resonates with the culture that once inhabited it, so does the monastery/museum. It is one of my favorite places here. It feels familiar, as if I lived here before now.

I went there twice last week once to look at its exhibits and again to attend a marvelous Debussy concert given by two highly accomplished pianists--offered at no charge, as are many artistic and cultural events and places here.

I will no doubt return again to that place, an architecture so similar to one I have experienced in recurring dreams. In those dreams,  I devoted myself to the rites of alchemy in a spacious high-ceilinged stone room with tall windows, from which I could see the moon's passage across the sky.
From the second floor of the monastery/museum, one can see the Ethnobotanical Garden next door, which is filled with the important plants native to this region.

 San Pablo Etla

Richard and Joanne Moeschl kindly invited me to visit their country home. After our time at Monte Alban, we went to San Pedro Etla, where they have happily settled with their four dogs, convivial neighbors and beautiful countryside.

They have fortunate house karma. Their dwelling is very lovely and comfortable.

Here is Joanne out on a short walk with the oldest dog, who cannot go far these days.

The Village of Teotitlan

My friend Mitzi Linn, who has been coming to Oaxaca for many years, has introduced me to several people and places here. Teotitlan is one of those places. It is famous as a village of weavers. These waxed flowers adorn the town church.

I went with a group of women who are involved with the microfinance project En Via.  En Via benefits about 250 women in the villages around Oaxaca.

According to its website, "En Via was born from the idea of combining microfinance with tourism to provide small, interest-free loans to women living in poverty"

"Through the combination of tourism and microfinance, we are able to provide women with access to affordable, comprehensive, and valuable financial products ... One of the main issues we address through our program is the lack of access to fair credit. Interest rates on microloans in Mexico are some of the highest worldwide, averaging at 70% and reaching 150% or more. Such rates make it nearly impossible for working people to borrow money to improve their businesses and lives. Our interest-free loans, generated through proceeds from our microfinance tours, offer a tangible and far more viable option for those wishing to better their businesses and thus provide hope for a better future."

I found out about En Via from Mica Miro, my dear friend Carolyn's daughter, who volunteers there. Mica invited me to join their group to visit Teotitlan. The day we visited--which was only yesterday, was the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

We walked around the village and looked at the work of some of the weavers, which I will share in another post. Hope you will be patient with me on this one, because I am not skilled enough to add any more photos into this post at this point.

This old woman was part of a family of weavers we visited. Her daughter is part of the En Via program. We stopped for tea in a garden behind their shop. After that we went to the plaza in front of the church to watch the costumed dancers do an afternoon performance/rehearsal of the Dances of the Plumed Serpent, whose main performance would take place that evening. 

Some Friends on the Journey

I have been fortunate here to spend some time with Mica Miro, the daughter of my longtime friend Carolyn Myers. I have known Mica since she was a baby but I have never really hung out with her as an adult. It has been a lot of fun to experience the kind of woman she has become and to be with each other here. A real treat.
This is Eshkie and Jerry, who live in Eugene, Oregon most of the time. They have been coming to Oaxaca for about 10 years and know a lot about it.

We get together to share a meal or take a walk to places of interest around Oaxaca. They are both very sympatico.

Again, thanks to my Oaxaca angel Mitzi Linn, who connected me with them.

This is Richard and Joanne Moeschl at the restaurant in the museum at Monte Alban.

I feel fortunate to get to know them better. They are both great people.

Here's a picture of Mica and I from a day when we had breakfast together.

I have gotten a haircut since then. Not being able to speak Spanish is problematical, and especially so when one wants a haircut. The stylist (the first one I came to the day I felt desperate for a hair cut) cut my hair quite short, and I watched as all the artful styling of my usual stylist Linda Dyer disappeared.

Oh, it looks okay. I do have some hair on my head after all. One must surrender sometimes, or often. It will be excellent to learn more Spanish before the next hair cut-- and to understand what people are saying to me, too, on many different topics.

But I did go to the mercado this morning and was successful in obtaining some vegetables, fruit and cheese.  Today I have nothing scheduled with anyone other than myself. This feels like a good thing right now. I want a bit of down time after my trips to San Pablo Etla and Teotitlan.

There are a lot of older people traveling here in Oaxaca, many of them by themselves. I think I will apply myself to interviewing some of them and reporting on what they have to say about elder travel in Mexico. Hasta luego--que te vaya bien!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Durante mi Viaje

Clouds in the sky over Cholula

No, my heart is not asleep
It is awake, wide awake,
not asleep or dreaming.
Its eyes are open wide
watching distant signals,
listening on the banks
of a vast silence.

      --Antonio Machado

For the past few days I've been in in Cholula and Puebla and I have had time to reflect on the experience of travel, and particularly on traveling alone. 

I have had no classes or meetings with friends while I've been here. I have been staying in the home of Martin, a 29-year old Frenchman, a perfectly nice fellow. 

I've been dealing with the inconvenient fact that I cannot figure out how to unlock his front door, either to get in or out, which means I had to rely upon him to be present. 

Soon it will be in the past, as I am leaving tomorrow morning for Oaxaca.

There seems to be a theme operating though.  I had come to Cholula in the hope of connecting with a particular Dharma community here. That never happened, though I did spend an evening with another group who are students of Mingyur Rinpoche. They were friendly people and the group felt harmonious and warm. I'm glad I had a chance to spend a few hours meditating and talking Dharma with them.

Traveling alone is just like living alone, but it does have an additional challenge, the challenge of being in new places, with new people, new foods and new customs-- and perhaps not knowing the country's language at all, or barely.  One lacks the comfort afforded by familiar places and people.

A beautiful old building in Guanajuato's Presa neighborhood
Of course, that is part of the allure of travel. As science fiction writer Ray Bradbury quipped. “Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness.” 

Yes, the esthetic of lostness is a good way to place some of the feelings that arise when traveling.

The Observer, the Outsider and the Sense of Belonging

Upstairs walkway in the Museo Amparo in Puebla
Wherever you go, there you are. That never changes.  So of course habitual patterns, perceptions, choices and responses just keep on popping up. I find that  being in unfamiliar places affords me a lot of good compost for tilling the fields. In my journey, I am an observer, and I sometimes feel as if I am an outsider. I am an outsider, a foreigner. I am a visitor from some other place and way of life. 

At the same time, I notice that I have an innate sense of belonging and that when I open up into feeling comfortable and at home in that way, it feels good. I spent many years feeling alienated and for me that is no longer so useful. 

I am at home when I relax into being right here in my body/mind, and all the concepts about being a foreigner and outsider just kind of melt away.

Traveling alone gives a great deal of opportunity for practising openness, maintaining vigilance, and breaking through language barriers with body language, smiles and positive intention.

The view from the roof of another Puebla museum

The well known travel author Pico Iyer writes, "Travel has woken me up, in many ways. It's taught me how provincial I and my assumptions are. It's expanded my sense of what is possible among human beings and in terms of human kindness (and at times its opposite). And it has shown me a whole other way to live, without a steady prop, not hemmed in by familiarity, and living according to the principles and challenges I most respect."

A church in Cholula
 Not hemmed in by familiarity...without a steady prop....these are things I think about as I move from one place to another in Mexico.

 I have a steady prop, but it is not the steady prop of familiar surroundings, friends and routine. It is internal, a sense of interconnectedness, belonging and peacefulness within.

I have learned things about myself since I set out. In some online conversation with friends, I realized that my sense of adventure takes the form of curiosity about art, culture, history, healing,  mysticism, architecture, agriculture, clothing and food.

Wherever you go, there you are.

I am going to be sorry to leave Cholula mainly because I have grown fond of eating at Koatlique Pachamama, a tiny restaurant that serves wonderfully good food and pulque, an ancient alcoholic
One of the folks at Koatlique Pachamama
beverage made from the maguey plant. A fellow who came to cut Martin's hair one day urged me to go there and to try to pulque and the food.

I really dislike eating at overpriced tourist places, and I thought I should check this place out. I am so glad I did.

The food is marvelous, very inexpensive and very fresh, healthy and traditional. The pulque comes in three forms. I chose natural, which seemed to have a low alcohol content. There is the distilado form, which they told me is like tequila.

That natural pulque is delicious--cloudy white, a bit foamy, a bit sour and sweet. It feels very good to drink it.  It has been used since ancient times for many maladies, and once was drunk only by leaders, elders, pregnant women or ill people.

When beer became popular here, pulque production dropped, but now some younger people are devoting themselves  to making it again.
A hillside near the big cathedral in Cholula
Cholula is famous for The Great Pyramid, the largest pyramid in the New World, over which the Spanish built an immense cathedral. There is also a volcano in the area, and every day I saw the smoke rising from it.

I am leaving tomorrow morning for Oaxaca, a day earlier than I had planned, because there is a national strike that is supposed to happen on Monday, December 1st. If so, it will probably close the roads in and out of Oaxaca. My bus trip from Guanajuato to Puebla was very comfortable, and I imagine this upcoming bus trip will be, too. Mexico is famous for its excellent bus service between cities.

I am being cured of the museum deprivation I experienced living in southern Oregon! I went to two wonderful museums in Guanajuato and since I arrived in this area I have been to four museums, two in Puebla and two in Cholula. The Puebla museums are housed in incredible old edifices from the eighteenth century.

It was Thanksgiving day when I visited Puebla, and I had a festive meal at an elegant restaurant next to the Museo Amparo. The food was delicious and beautifully presented. The Big Kahuna and two of his friends were at the next table, which was entertaining. There was an incredibly handsome waiter. Pink walls. Beautiful plants. A fountain.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

At night, they were singing at the grave of Jose Alfredo Jiminez

Domingo, 7am--let's start the day with a loud celebratory explosion! Not just one, but four of them resounded across the valley this morning.

I don't know what the occasion was but Viva la Vida! Lucy told me later it is a religious holiday, shaking her head in consternation at the mode of  observing it.

Yesterday a few of us took a day trip to Santa Rosa and Dolores Hidalgo with Alberto, an endearing tour guide who is also a teacher at Escuela Falcon, where I just finished three weeks of study in the Spanish language, so beautiful and confounding. 

At our graduation ceremony on Friday, I was given a certificate announcing that I had completed 30 hours of course time. When Gonzalo called me up, saying "Lupita," the fans of my Lupita subpersonality all chanted Lupita! Lupita! Lupita! grinning at me and raising their arms in that gesture usually reserved for rock and sports stars. Yes, Lupita liked that. She can be a bit of a coyote type of mujer. But enough of Lupita.

Back to our trip. I found this small church in the village of Santa Rosa, so very different from the grand cathedrals of Guanajuato,  sweet in its simplicity.  I liked the small village of Santa Rosa. Small, with its fresh clean air and that country feeling. It felt good to get out of the city for awhile.

There were delightful back alleys in Santa Rosa. Here is one. There was also a big shop that sold elaborate ceramics that were very Italianate.  We stopped there to survey the many platters, jars, plates, house markers, and planters large and small, among other things. The ceramics producer did not allow photos, or I would have taken at least a few of the elaborate and beautiful jars, trays, pots, plates, etc.

In general, their style is not one I favor, even though the craftsmanship is excellent. I find them too fussy, except for a few designs. People compare them to majolica, but I don't find much resemblance.

We also stopped at another much smaller shop that sells locally made liqueurs, jams and other foods---all made by the women of the town and all fresh and delicious. I bought some jam for Lucy, and some piquant pumpkin seeds for myself.

The road we took led us through an expansive, wonderful countryside of hills and valleys, dotted with cactus and small trees.

The Guanajuato area is in the altiplano or high plains of Mexico.The central Mexican plateau, also known as the Mexican Altiplano, is a large arid-to-semi-arid plateau that occupies much of northern and central Mexico. It averages 5,988 ft. above sea level.

The cities where I will be traveling next are both in the altiplano, too. Puebla is at 7,000 feet elevation and Oaxaca is at 5,000 feet. And to think, I was aiming for time at the beach. Hopefully, I will descend to sea level  and the oceanside in January.

Our group of day trippers had a meal at a restaurant housed in a hacienda on the road to San Filipe. I know this is going to sound as if I was just having an off day, but while I loved the hacienda, and while the food was okay, I would not rate it at the top of my list in terms of foods I have eaten since I got to Mexico.   I am usually not wild about meals in which meat is the main component-- unless the meat is cooked in a spectacular or fascinating way.  My lunch consisted of a large piece of chicken that was probably pounded thin and then cooked quite simply. It was served with thick cut fried potatoes and guacamole. The salsa was delicious and with some Victoria beer and interesting conversation, the interlude was quite enjoyable. The couple from San Francisco professed to like it very much. Their meal was much like mine, but with a large piece of tenderized beef.

I am not a restaurant critic after all, but simply a woman who seems to be getting a lot more enjoyment out of dishes like pozole, sopa azteca and quesadillas made with jamaica flowers and cheese.

We spent some time looking at the ceramics made in Dolores Hidalgo and again, I was not wild about their style, which seems garish next to the older Talavera designs made in Puebla, which I really do like very much.
This particular piece is actually one of the nicer designs I saw there. Many of the designs are more like these jars below, which are fun and colorful if you want that look, but too garish for me. Even Lupita does not like them that much.

Oh, but before we did any visiting of ceramic shops, we stopped at the cemetery where Jose Alfredo Jiminez is buried.

Jiminez is a much beloved figure in Mexico. He was a Mexican singer-songwriter who was born in the town of Dolores Hidalgo in 1926. His many songs in the mariachi style are considered an integral part of Mexico's musical heritage.

Jiminez had no musical training and could not play any musical instrument, yet he composed over 1,000 widely sung and covered songs.  His songs are so much loved that people in large groups sing along with them in a soulful way, as we discovered later at the concert we attended. Even 5-year old children know the lyrics to some of his songs.

It is somewhat startling to walk through an old cemetery with all the customary angels and heavenly discourses, a crowded place filled with the overwhelming grayness of marble monuments,  and to come upon a festive scene at the location of a very large sombrero and rebozo. This particular display marks the grave of the beloved composer.

This is the grave of Jose Alfredo Jiminez
When we got to the grave site, we found many people of all ages assembled there. Many of the older men were convivial and inebriated. Actually everyone was quite convivial, no matter whether sober or drunk.

Elaborate wreaths of flowers decorated the grave. It was the day before the commemoration of his death on  November 23, 1973. He was only 47 when he died of cirrosis of the liver, the result of a life of heavy drinking.

Alberto said that the visitors would continue throughout the day, and so would the drinking. At 10 in the evening,  Alberto told us that people would be singing Jiminez' songs at his grave, and no doubt by that time the atmosphere would be even more likkered up.

We did not participate in that rite, but we did head to the big plaza that ornaments the center of Dolores Hidalgo, where a concert was to be held spotlighting 40 of Jiminez' best-known songs.

The concert was wonderful, once the first singer finished. She was a well-known pop singer with long curly blond hair and a style like so many of the current pop divas. I was underwhelmed by her voice and style. She did her best to engage the audience, with lukewarm results.

Finally, she was done and Fernando de la Mora, a famous operatic tenor, appeared in a tuxedo, every inch of him totally dynamic and arresting. From then on, I was completely entranced. What a gift to hear him sing the songs of Jose Alfredo Jiminez with his majestic voice.
Another view of the grave site

He received a far warmer reception from the audience than the pop singer did. Soon the audience was singing back to him.

De la Mora was backed by a full mariachi band,  elaborately costumed and complete with guitars, harp, accordian and trumpets. Perhaps there were other instruments, too that I did not notice. It was a grand experience, thrilling to hear a voice of that quality in the person of a singer that seemed to be so elegant and warm.
Fernando de la Mora

Today, as I walked down the street of the ancient mermaids towards Calzada de Guadalupe, two burros grazed peacefully on the weeds in a nearby small field.  I've never seen them here before, but I have grown familiar with the pulse of life on this street, the young guy who heads out on his motor scooter every day, the two small dogs at the nearby tienda, one dirty and the other dirty and wearing a dirty sweater. I have grown familiar with the people riding their horses up and down the old street, with the young mothers hurrying their children down to school, the old women walking slowly up the steep incline.

I have grown fond of Lucy, who has been so kind and with whom I have shared some lovely times.  I have grown fond of Laura, who comes to clean each week. I have grown fond of Bashka, my friend from Poland, and Mariana, who lives nearby in a small village. But when you are traveling, you leave places. You leave people. You head out into the unknown again.

As travel author Bill Bryson says,“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Visit to La Gruta Spa and San Miguel de Allende

One of the thermal pools at La Gruta

A group of us who study Spanish at La Escuela Falcon went on an outing with Alberto, one of the school's teachers. Alberto is very sympatico and it was fun to have him as our guide. We drove about 1.5 hours through a landscape of rolling hills ornamented with cactus, passing through a couple of small towns along the way.

Our first stop was La Gruta Spa. La Gruta Spa is one of four hot springs in the Guanajuato region, and it is the one closest to the city of Guanajuato. It's a beautiful, tranquil place with many trees and flowers, and of course, the hot water. I am a dedicated lover of thermal springs and I could have stayed at La Gruta all afternoon, but was happy to be able to relax there for an hour and a half.

La Gruta has three outdoor pools fed by thermal hot springs. The hottest of the three is accessed down a long (well-lit) stone tunnel of water . Once you have floated or walked down the tunnel, you find yourself in a dome shaped cave with water dripping from the stone ceiling.

Ginny, Klaus and I tried out three of the pools and the tunnel. The tunnel was quite a mysterious experience, and the dome at its end is dark and womblike. Very relaxing to be in that hot water in the dark. I would love to return there before I leave Guanajuato, but if I do not have another chance to enjoy La Gruta, I will look forward to visiting some hot springs near Oaxaca soon.

Ginny and Marsha
Ginny and her father Brian are in my class at Escuela Falcon. They are both great people and they also have a wonderful relationship with each other,  so I was looking forward to meeting the mama of the family. On the day of our outing, Brian stayed at home with their four toy poodles, and Marsha came on the outing with Ginny. As I suspected, I enjoyed being with Marsha as much as I enjoy being with Brian and Ginny.

They live in Arcata, California and are traveling in Mexico for a couple of months. I recognize fellow bohemian types of people when I see them!

Yes indeed I do. They are an artistic, can-do family of people who make beautiful things, (they have fixed up and sold many houses), have horses and dogs and enjoy the extended family style of living. Oh, and everything is leavened with a good sense of humor.

Lunch at El Pegaso in San Miguel

Klaus suggested we eat at El Pegaso, one of four restaurants that Alberto recommended. It was a good choice. I just had fish tacos, which are not a remarkable way to discover how good a Mexican restaurant is, but I enjoyed them and the company of the group.
Alberto makes a call, Marsha and Klaus talk and Ginny smiles

We didn't spend enough time in San Miguel for me to make definitive comments, but I did notice these differences between Guanajuato and San Miguel.

It is more elegant and upscale in San Miguel than in Guanajuato and it appeals to stylish Mexicans as well as to gringos. There are many beautiful antique shops, art galleries and clothing shops, all of which carry goods that are much more chic and expensive than those found in Guanajuato.

Alberto took us to a wonderful chocolate shop, which produces marvelous truffles and ice cream that is also quite delicious. I have seen nothing of this sort in Guanajuato, where the dulcerias sport delicious, but much more traditionally Mexican, types of sweets such as candied squash (marvelous), and others whose names and tastes I have not yet been introduced to.

San Miguel has a large gringo population. Around 20,000 American and Canadian expats live there.   The presence of so many gringos influences the tone of the town. Waiters and store owners speak English as a matter of course. Not so in Guanajuato. And the gringo influx has driven prices up, so that it is said that things cost twice as much there. Certainly housing does.

While we sat chatting and enjoying our lunch, a very fancy wedding party passed our window. A band in full costume was followed by the bride and groom and then by their friends and family.

Looking at the scene, Alberto commented, "That is a special wedding of rich people."

I certainly enjoyed my brief visit to the town, which is lovely. I decided to stay in Guanajuato for a month rather than in San Miguel because I knew Guanajuato would be less expensive and more authentically Mexican. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't enjoy spending a bit of time in San Miguel, among its wonderful arts and crafts, foods and clothing. Perhaps in the future, perhaps not.

San Miguel has many old doors made of fine wood and ornamented by small hands and other decorative objects that serve as handles or knockers.

La Aurora 

It's too bad that our visit to La Fabrica La Aurora happened at the end of the day when we were tired from the thermal springs as well as walking in the streets and the mercado.

La Aurora  is one of San Miguel's most unique destinations, a beautiful art and design center housed what was a textile factory at the turn of the century. Before its renaissance as an art and design center, Negociacion Fabril de la Aurora, known as La Aurora, was a leading manufacturer of premium cotton "manta" and textiles for almost a hundred years.

I loved this flood of white paper flowers overhead

Like the hot springs and the downtown area of San Miguel, La Aurora is a place to which one could devote more time than we had that day.

Many paintings, much sculpture, beautiful crafts, ceramic flowerpots, and much more. Too tired to really give it the appreciation it deserves.

Marsha and Ginny said that they would return with Brian and Ginny's friend, who will visit soon.

 What a beautiful day.

It was dark when we got back to Guanajuato. I was the last one to be dropped off. The relaxed, kind Alberto drove me all the way up the hill to Lucy's. I was grateful because I was quite weary and the idea of slogging up the steep hill in the dark was not appealing.
Today, I decided to rest before plunging into my third week of Spanish studies at the school.

I took a walk on the Panoramica in the morning, then went food shopping to the Mega in a taxi with Lucy.  I had some lunch and actually took a siesta. It was a quiet afternoon.

Marsha at La Aurora
There have been other visitors at Lucy's in the past few days: a businessman from San Francisco who stayed for one night, a couple from Frankfort who left this morning and a musician/lecturer from Russia who is here until tomorrow.

Tonight others are rumored to be about to arrive for one night, though Lucy is acting as if they may or may not show up. Something about a family with a bunch of kids. I am instructed to move my bath items into the downstairs bathroom, which I can have to myself.

We are having classes tomorrow even though tomorrow is a national holiday--Revolution Day. I imagine it could be something like the 4th of July, Mexican style. Two big holidays in one month!

As they have said, the wise ones, "Where ever you go, there you are."  And it's true, here I am. What I notice when I look in the mirror is that I have aged in the past few months. Either that, or I simply have not been paying attention. More wrinkles, more sagging skin.

I am not complaining. I am noticing. One thing I love about Mexico is the way aging is accepted as a natural part of life. The desperate attempt to look young is not the main music here. And old people are treated with respect. What a relief.

As for the upcoming holiday, more news in the next post.

Hasta luego...que te vaya bien.